ANMLY #26 :: Translation


In Anomaly 26, the translation section was not meant to be themed. However, after the “dark” issue and before the “resistant” issue, the current selection of work has coalesced around something that might be termed the unknowable.

In the case of M.L. Martin’s “Wulf ond Eadwacer,” the most foremost unknowability is the anonymous pre-tenth century author, who has given us a strange, striking feminist voice lamenting patriarchal Anglo-Saxon culture. Embracing the conflicting interpretations of the poem and its surprising formal elements, Martin performs some radical acrobatics. Her erasures, code-switching, and sharp ear aim to “release the poem back into its radical complexity” in a way that thrilled our editors.

After such profound strangeness, Cars on Fire may seem, at first, almost aggressively knowable: an excerpt from a novel, a simple love story narrated by a monolingual English-speaking New Yorker referred to as “this-guy.” Yet, Mónica Ríos uses this well-trod ground as a stage for an ever-morphing, multi-lingual, sometimes even Oulipian dance into, as translator Robin Myers says, “a set of vertiginous, kaleidoscopic ruminations.” As “this-guy” eavesdrops on the Spanish-speaking neighbor he cannot understand, translator Robin Myers recreates for the reader the unknowability inherent in “language, culture, relationships, intimacy, loneliness, and loss.”

Unknowability is fundamental to the correspondingly titled “Content Not Found.” Drawing on dadaism and other poetic/linguistic avant-gardes, Andra Rotaru plays at “producing meaning while hiding it and with hiding meaning while producing it.” This is a poetic project of fragment, of collage, of hybridity, and ultimately, as translator Monica Manolachi says, it is “a contemplation of the void.” Manolachi (with a collaborative assist from Anca Roncea) juggles the many elements of Rotaru’s experiment, protecting the poems’ strange disjunctiveness and unpredictable, immanent resonances.

Formaldehyde, by Carla Faesler, is perhaps less about unknowability than the unending work of trying to know. In this case, the object of interpretive desire is a heart in a jar of formaldehyde, itself a metaphor for Mexico: its cultural complexity, its history. In this excerpt, translator Adam Greenberg carries the reader gracefully through the ebb and flow of Faesler’s prose and poetry, “an interstitial space” of sense-making, of knowing as elusive and as process.

Kelly Nelson re-creates poems we all imagine we know, both bringing back and writing in new levels of unknowability as she searches for “alternate voices within the[ir] very bones.” In three poems, respectively by Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and e.e. cummings, Nelson plucks out unintended Spanish words, forming a wholly new piece in a kind of erasure-palimpsest, and then offering the reader her translation of the wonderfully unholy creations.

Translation at Anomaly loves collaboration, and we were so delighted to find the dialogic, collaborative spirit of Raphaël Confiant’s Madame St. Clair, Queen of Harlem reflected and enacted in the “call-and-response practice” of co-translators Patricia Hartland and Hodna Nuernberg. Confiant’s polyvocal novel, like other pieces we’re featuring this issue, makes use of fragmentation and other techniques to “dislocate” the reader and cast doubt on the possibility of certainty. In this excerpt, we can see how Confiant layers voices and places on top of one another so that they function, as the translators explain, “almost as false cognates, engendering a deceptively subtle sense of ‘difference.'”

For Salaiman Juhni, the experience of life in modern Iraq cannot be conveyed, cannot be known, in a straightforward way. His poems take up absurdist and surrealist techniques, disappointing us if we seek a knowable truth, disabusing us of the notion that one is possible. As co-translators Ali Kadhim and Chris George tell us, these poems “confront the reader with a choice:” either to dismiss them as “nonsense” or to approach them on their own terms, in all of their ambiguity, as they wrestle with history, memory, oppression, and “the dialogue between philosophy and our lives.”

In “Situation to Break a Spell,” Mercedes Roffé asks us to answer unanswerable questions, to “confront who you were even before memory.” Brent Armendinger explains that this was one of the things that drew him to the poem, its “haunting use of impossible instructions.” In a creative, aleatory translation process, Armendinger sought “definitions” of words he didn’t know in the streets of Buenos Aires, making himself “walk the number of blocks corresponding to the line in which that word appeared” and then talking to strangers about the word. Here, he pairs his resulting version of Roffe’s poem with notes from those conversations, producing a hybrid text that corresponds to and expands on the original.

Unknowability takes on a different sense in this excerpt from The Silence of Chagos—more political than philosophical or formal. Shenaz Patel’s moving, genre-resistant work is based on journalistic interviews she did with the displaced people of these islands. Patricia Hartland—featured twice in this issue—was compelled to translate this piece because it “pours light into a dark shadow of our collective recent history,” challenging us to know that which hegemony has sought to obscure.

Finally, the excerpt from Complex, by Santiago Vizcaíno, also looks at exile, but of an individual sort. Willy, the Ecuadorian protagonist who himself lives in Spain but claims to hate immigrants,

wrestles with the confounding ambiguities of identity, language, and writing. Neither Vizcaíno nor translator Kimrey Anna Batts shy away from Willy’s intense unlikeability, finding in him a vehicle for exploring Ecuador’s “national inferiority complex” and the perpetual unknowability of the self.

Anna Rosenwong
Translation Editor